28/01/2022

๐Ÿ‘น A Gremlin In The Works | 1983-2015 | by Bitmap Books | "Quite Frankly - Bitmap Books Have Done It Again." ๐Ÿ‘น @hardistymark @bitmap_books

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https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/products/a-gremlin-in-the-works

When I previously covered Bitmap Books’ A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games (https://www.gamesfreezer.co.uk/2021/10/bitmap-books-guide-to-japanese-role.html) I felt quite certain that I had read the definitive ‘gaming book’.

It was so rich with information and so well-presented and researched that I couldn’t imagine it really being bettered. It was a pleasant surprise then, when receiving A Gremlin in the Works, as the book had a totally different and arguably bigger impact on me as I read through it.

It’s extremely early days, but following my time with the book, I can very much imagine this ending up in my year-end list for 2022…and it’s currently January.

Written by Mark James Hardisty (Twitter - @hardistymark) and edited by Mark Green, A Gremlin in the Works is an exhaustive and oddly touching account – by way of a series of interviews – of Gremlin Graphics, from the extremely early days of Just Micro right up to 2015, covering over thirty years through five-hundred and sixty pages.

The way in which the book is laid out – in landscape format – means that the text-rich pages, full-page illustrations and screenshots etc. get room to breathe. Officially endorsed by key figures behind the company such as Ian Stewart, the book is a celebration of not just the company in question and its various iterations throughout the years, but also seminal figures in the British gaming industry – some much-missed – such as Pete Harrop, Tony Crowther, Ben Daglish and Rod Cousens - to name a few - as well as diving into how much of a hotbed of talent that Sheffield was for gaming during the period covered, and the directions in which that talent took those folks involved. 

Whereas with the JRPG book I was bowled over by the quality of content, its incisiveness and depth – here, whilst those things are still very much present, I was more emotionally involved as it covered effectively the birth of my introduction to gaming as a child, re-awakening memories of encountering video games as a medium for the first time as well as being laugh out loud funny as well as genuinely moving in certain sections. There was a moment where I blurted out a chuckle at Ian Stewart joking that he’d be done for tax evasion as one of the developers recalled just getting paid in a wad of twenties that he kept in a drawer for a game he worked on in the ‘80s, whilst only a few pages later, I was lost in silent thought at the poignancy of the image created by David Rowe (an incredibly talented artist) for the charity Soft Aid cassette, something I hadn’t previously even knew existed.

It was moments like these that made my time with the book special. I could barely make it through a single page without picking up my phone and making notes; games to pick up, people to read up on, long-forgotten software houses and cancelled games that sparked the imagination – I haven’t had such outright fun reading a book in a long time and the way in which those involved recollect key events, releases and colleagues with reverence and respect really take you back to the days of dashing to WH Smiths, John Menzies or Boots to grab the newest 8-bit game, then rushing home and eagerly sipping your Um Bongo as the loading screen teased you with graphical promise. I’m not an overly sentimental person, but the fact that so many memories were rekindled whilst consuming each page is a plain and unavoidable fact, as everything is captured so well.

As well as the lengthy interviews, it would be remiss of me here, not to mention how fantastic Mark Hardisty is at cutting to the chase, there’s so little waffle, the succinct questions and tight editing mean there’s a natural flow to the book that means it always feels informative and enjoyable, never reading as too dense or dry – it’s surprising how funny so many of the Gremlin team are, it gives the book a lightness of touch that adds a lot of character and really gives off an over-arching sense of community and passion.

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